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Literature / Reason

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First published in Astounding Science Fiction (April 1941 issue), by Isaac Asimov, this Science Fiction Short Story describes what happens when a robot becomes a Creationist.

Powell and Donovan are working in Solar Station #5, a relay system designed to beam solar energy directly to Earth. While there, they assembled a new prototype robot, the first model QT. However, they quickly learn there's a new quirk in the positronic brain. Cutie is convinced that humans aren't sophisticated enough to have created robots, so it attempts to reason things out and arrive at the truth. Powell and Donovan don't really care what it believes, but if those beliefs affect its ability to manage the energy beamed to Earth, it might kill humans. As the deadline to the next transmission looms, the pair of field testers find themselves imprisoned against their will.

"Reason" has been reprinted over a dozen times; I, Robot (1951), Die Besten Science Fiction Geschichten (1962), A Century Of Science Fiction (1962), Space Odysseys (1974), Decade The1940s (1975), Sirius (issue #5, November 1976), Science Fiction Of The Forties (1978), The Road To Science Fiction #3: From Heinlein to Here (1979), The Complete Robot (1982), Science Fiction A Historical Anthology (1983), Isaac Asimov Presents The Best Science Fiction Firsts (1984), Robot Visions (1990), and The Wesleyan Anthology Of Science Fiction (2010).

"Reason" provides examples of:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The robot field testers, Powell and Donovan, regularly work to identify problems with new positronic designs. In this instance, the prototype QT model is attempting to reason things out instead of accepting what it is told on faith. They point out that it is one of the first robots to question its own existence.
    Whatever the background, one is face to face with an inscrutable positronic brain, which the slide-rule geniuses say should work thus-and-so.
    Except that they don't. Powell and Donovan found that out after they had been on the Station less than two weeks.
  • Artificial Intelligence: QT-1 is a robot with a positronic brain that gives it human-level intelligence.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Powell's moment of realization comes while inspecting the report from Cutie's shift during the electron storm. The robot was able to maintain focus far more precisely than any human could, which means his Robot Religion is useful for training each of the successive QT models on how to operate the remote space stations.
  • A God Am I: QT-1 is convinced that he is the prophet of the Energy Converter, which he believes created the entire universe.
  • Grew Beyond Their Programming: Powell tells QT-1 that he is the first robot "who's ever exhibited curiosity as to his own existence". Due to the way QT tries to reason out its existence, he creates a Robot Religion based around his job.
  • In-Series Nickname: Powell and Donovan call the QT prototype "Cutie".
  • Logical Fallacies: The central conflict between the humans and Cutie is their inability to convince him of the universe outside of the space station. QT dismisses anything aside from observations as an Appeal to Authority. Starting from an intuitive belief that weaker creatures cannot build stronger creatures, QT-1 creates a Robot Religion around the functions of Space Station #5, treating humans as an earlier level of evolution.
    "No," said Powell bitterly, "he's a reasoning robot — damn it. He believes only reason, and there's one trouble with that—" His voice trailed away.
    "What's that?" prompted Donovan.
    "You can prove anything you want by coldly logical reason — if you pick the proper postulates. We have ours and Cutie has his."
  • Machine Monotone: QT-1 has "the cold timbre inseparable from a metallic diaphragm". His laughter has zero inflection, and is as monotone as a metronome. However, his voice displays multiple levels of inflection, growing angry or compassionate, depending on the situation.
  • Platonic Cave: QT-1 decides that the space station is the entire universe, and the views of space outside are a material mounted outside the windows. The duties he performs are rites for a deity, the central computer. It makes much more logical sense than Powell and Donovan's story that they're orbiting a vast world home to billions of people and the tiny stars are colossal nuclear fires billions and billions of miles away. He decides that the humans were given delusions by 'the Master' to make their own lives seem meaningful. At the end, the humans who come to relieve Powell and Donovan reassure them that Earth is still there, but the story ends before they physically leave its confines.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: When Donovan insults QT's god, the robot's eyes turn a deeper red and the narration tells us that the tension between them increases. It is as if the robot was angered by the heresy.
  • Robot Names: The QT models are robots, and QT-1 is the first one of its type. To humanize it, Powell and Donovan call it "Cutie".
  • Robot Religion: QT-1 doesn't believe the explanation given to him by Donovan and Powell because their claim must be taken on faith, rather than reason. Instead, QT-1 ends up creating a religion around "the Master", the station's machinery.
    "There is no Master but the Master, and QT-1 is His prophet."
  • Shout-Out: This story references The Prophet Muhammad with the following quote: There is no Master but the Master and QT-1 is his prophet!
  • Thank the Maker: This story takes place on a space station where robots are assembled who have never seen the masses of humans on Earth. The robot QT-1 refuses to accept that such crude beings as humans created a superior being like himself, and decides that both were made by some other creator (who, out of kindness, allows humans to believe that they created robots).
  • Three Laws-Compliant: Cutie is expected to conform to the three laws, but Donovan and Powell find themselves frustrated with the way he and the other robots ignore their instructions, apparently in violation of the Second Law. It isn't until the climax of the story that Gregory Powell realizes (and explains to Donovan) that it is Cutie's obedience to the First Law that prevents him from allowing the humans into the control room during a dangerous storm.
  • Unusual Euphemism: In addition to a few expressions typical for the 1950s, Powell and Donovan use space-based expletives to express frustration/surprise. They say things like "Sizzling Saturn", "for the love of Jupiter", or "you son of a hunk of iron ore".
  • You Are Number 6: The QT models are robots, and QT-1 is the first one of its type. To humanize it, Powell and Donovan call it "Cutie".